The Worst Fate

Imprisonment has been on my mind lately. Specifically, the many forms imprisonment can take in our lives.

There is, of course, the obvious kind of imprisonment. The kind with metal bars and jumpsuits and things that are wrongly romanticized in movies and on television.

But there are other kinds of imprisonment, too. Kinds that are more subtle. More divisive. More difficult to see and practically impossible to explain. More personal. More deep-seated. More a matter of perspective and belief and experience than anything tangible.

The kind of imprisonment that doesn’t rely on anything physical to hold you in place.

This kind of imprisonment is mostly reliant on patterns. It’s a set of behaviors and responses that, over time, become so programmed into our fabric that we forget these things are even happening. What’s worse, we forget there was a time when we had a choice.

The only way I’ve found to break these patterns is to become aware of them. To try to tease apart why things are the way they are and why we react the way we do to these things. This is not easy work. It’s often daunting and frustrating and painful and many other things we would rather not experience. It can require examining things about oneself that were supposed to stay locked away forever. Which seems like, ironically enough, a more complicated reenactment of the obvious kind of imprisonment.

Before I spent so much time thinking about these things, I used to believe the obvious kind of imprisonment was the worst fate we could endure. But at the very least, there’s something simple about the obvious kind of imprisonment. At least it needs to occur in a physical place. This is still horrible, of course. An absolutely hellish fate to suffer.

But, I think, the worst fate we can endure is not imprisonment. At least, not the obvious kind. The worst fate we can endure is spending our life believing we are imprisoned, only to realize we’ve been free the entire time. Only to realize that our imprisonment was from the inside-out, not the outside-in.

This realization is far more heartbreaking than the plain, cold reality of being confined to a cell. It’s a far worse fate to take the cell with you wherever you go.